“Money Follows Ministry:” Why It’s a Myth

I dropped this idea on Twitter and Facebook and immediately received some hot responses. I expected it of course, because the idea is so ingrained in people that we don’t ever stop to think about it. In a perfect world – absolutely, that’s the way I’d love things. You do great works or minister to people; and then support, community, donor dollars – whatever, will flow in.  After all, it sounds so noble and spiritual. But it’s just not true and here’s why:

In an earlier time, it might have actually been true, and that’s probably what started the saying or meme. 30 or 40 or more years ago, there wasn’t much competition out there in the non-profit or religious space – especially in the media. In the late sixties and early seventies, Oral Roberts’ prime time specials were pulling in more viewers that most prime time network shows today. Billy Graham could pack any arena in America. But then something happened – cable TV. Channels splintered into the hundreds, then the Internet opened up, and now iPods, mobile phones, and more. As a result, we live in the most distracted culture in the history of the world.

What does that have to do with money and ministry? Plenty. Today, there are a multitude of voices crying out for your support and donor dollars. I can turn on the TV and within 5 minutes find a program asking me to feed the hungry, build water wells, stop human trafficking, and more. (And that doesn’t count the clutter from the con artists offering all the Jesus Junk products like anointed oil vials, personal prophecies, etc.).

Today, viewers, supporters, congregations, and donors are simply overwhelmed. We call it “donor fatigue.” Plus, we’re facing a new generation that grew up on Napster and think everything they see or hear should be free. The idea of actually responding with support doesn’t even occur to most of them.

As a result, I’ve seen hundreds of great, effective, and committed ministry and non-profit organizations go out of business. They did great work. Ministered to thousands. Changed people’s lives. Wonderful, godly people. And still went under.

Why? Because money just doesn’t necessarily follow ministry. If the myth works for you, great, but it doesn’t work for the majority of well-intentioned and dedicated people on the front lines of ministry.  I have discovered that most of the people that defend the concept have really small ministries where significant funding isn’t really needed.  But step out to make a huge difference in the world, and you’ll see what I mean.

So what’s the lesson? God is soverign and He can do what he wants.  But read your Bible – there’s something for us to do as well. It means that you have to tell people what to do. Give them an opportunity to support your work. Invite them to be on your team. Don’t just assume that once they’ve been touched by your efforts, they’ll automatically get on board. To impact or minister to people and then walk away expecting them to automatically respond is a death wish.

Absolutely minister first. Do what you say you’ll do. Change people’s lives. But don’t end there. Take the next step and give them the opportunity respond, because if you don’t, you’ll find that bankruptcy follows ministry.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • As usual, you nailed Phil. I live it as truth day in and day out.

  • bwillix

    I disagree if God is it the money and workers will come. That is part of faith.

  • Phil,

    I absolutely agree with you — “money follows ministry” is probably an old school paradigm that needs to be shifted. As I was telling some communication colleagues yesterday, people support people and causes.

    In my experience, a personal connection is the strongest motivator for people to remain faithful in their financial support, even during tough economic times. It’s that personal sense of responsibility for another human being that is the strongest motivator.

    The second strongest motivator today I’d say is causes. As Tom Watson explains in his book “CauseWired,” causes are not just issues that people care about. Causes are now a part of our social identity — it’s an identifiable part of who we are. When I join a new cause on Facebook, I’m not just doing it because I care about that cause (which I do), I’m doing it in part because I want other people to know I care about that cause (it’s part of who I am, my online identity). That’s a pretty huge psycho-social shift that many non-profits and ministries haven’t fully grappled with yet. In a nutshell: “I am what I support.”

    I’m not saying that’s necessarily a good thing, but I would say (as Watson argues) it is the reality of the hyper-connected, always-on, 24/7, globalized world that we live in today. That’s the new reality. Get used to it, embrace it, or go the way of the dinosaur.

    How’s that for two cents? ;-) Always great discussions here, Phil! I hope others will chime in as well.

    Steve K.

  • joesindorf

    I totally agree, Phil.

    However, allow me to augment one point.  You stated: “I have discovered that most of the people that defend the concept have really small ministries where significant funding isn’t really needed.”

    You and I both know of a major television network that sent out a letter to all of its paid time programmers last week in which the president of the network said: “Use that time [your program airtime] to minister to your TV viewers.  If you will do this, I can assure you that you and your ministry will be supported!  God’s word promises this again and again.”

    The group I referenced is not a really small ministry, it’s a really really big ministry.  They don’t just minister and sit back whilst the support rolls in — they ask for support every day.

    Money seems to follow some ministries… but it also seems to follow certain hucksters, snake oil salesmen and master prophets.

    Here’s what I’ve found to be true:  Money follows ministries that minister well to their audience and who ask for support in a compelling way, and routinely show that they use the donor’s dollars in an ethical and effective way.

  • Postscript

    Steve –

    Do you really believe that a personal connection and belief in a cause trumps “What’s in it for me” as the strongest motivator?

    No ill will intended here – it might be that we’ve become more altruistic by buying into “Story” marketing, but I don’t think I’ve seen it.  Has there been a shift?

  • Maybe mass-ministry is a thing of the past or we are going full-circle. Paul who headed up the first global ministry was a tent maker. He solicited donations for the poor, but not for his own ministry. As several have commented, small ministries do not need money following them.

    With the internet’s social media and blogs, thousands of ministers have the opportunity to minister to millions of people. How much does an account on Facebook, Blogger, and Twitter cost? Nothing. You can get your own web site for about $100 a year using WordPress or Drupal.

    Billy Graham and Oral Roberts were effective ministers that used mass media well in their times. This is a different time, a different media, and money does not need to follow ministry. What we need are thousands and thousands of ministers to “… go out into the highways and hedges …” (Luke 14:23) of the internet. Reaching out to every niche group, forum, discussion, and tweek to preach Christ.

  • Anthony Peterson

    Great post Phil. I totally agree. The Bible is littered with examples of things that were clearly God’s will but didn’t happen because of human stubborness, doubt, greed etc.

    It’s a mystery why He has chosen to partner with us. Heck, if I was God, I’d get the Angels to do the ministry, they are more obedient and dont require food, clothing and shelter.

    But God is God. I am not.

  • I agree and also think that ministry doesn’t follow money. I have seen money thrown at things that don’t work and ministries supported finanically that shouldn’t be.

  • Phil,

    Here is where you nailed it: “Don’t just assume that once they’ve been touched by your efforts, they’ll automatically get on board …. Take the next step and give them the opportunity respond, because if you don’t, you’ll find that bankruptcy follows ministry.”

    It’s all about engagement – and that’s what you’re saying. Its’s the ‘Age of Engage.’ (Kn Moy, Masterworks)

    Right on!

  • I was one who reacted quicklyk when you first posted this; because I did and do believe that “money follows ministry.” But now that you’ve expanded your thoughts I concur…and would perhaps addendum the statement “money follows ministry IF you ask for it” or somesuch.

    I’ve been in vocational ministry since 1978, with four different parachurch (I hate that term) organizations, and have been “on support” all that time. When I first went “on support” I knew no one; I was converted in prison and everyone i knew was either in prison or should have been. But I was “sold” on the concept, still am, and rejoice and praise God that He has been faithful to provide for our needs these just-over-three-decades.

    Since I’m on the topic, I also am convinced there is no “way” to raise support; you’ve got to find what works for you. I’ve NEVER made an appointment, if I feel someone needs to be extended an opportunity to support me, I send them a letter and leave it in their court. Is that “the” way? Nope, but it is mine, and it’s proved itself.

    And I work at staying in touch with my people, and for that I am so grateful for the internet!

    I appreciate your work, friend; and am glad you are in His corner!

  • Gene Steiner, Creative Media

    I tend to disagree with you, Phil, on this one.

    God has placed in the Body “Provisionaries” and “Visionaries”.  The visionaries have the vision. They minister, they send out, they do the work of the ministry. When the provisionaries see all that God is accomplishing through the visionaries, because of the gifting God has given them, their natural instinct is to GIVE – and give they do. They just need to see the value, the results of their giving. If they are not convinced that the results are there, then they will not give. The question is “How do we attract the provisionaries’ attention?  I do agree with you about the fractionalized pie – too many asks and the oversaturation of the market – but the reason people may not give as they would like is because there has been little accountability and proof that the ministries have used the money for the intended purpose.  The media clientele I have had have appreciated learning how to present their ministries using new media and enabling provisionaries to partner with them to participate in the blessing of giving as unto the Lord.   Gene, Creative Media, 918  381  1964



  • Olga

    Well put.  I know of several ministers who have worked hard and sacrificially to build God’s Kingdom, only to find themselves with lost income, homes and in debt in this economy.

    Thanks for your words of wisdom and truth to God’s people.